Covering one of the biggest events in Texas, I had the opportunity to sit down and chat with a band from my own country of Iran playing at SXSW. Under the Islamic Republic of Iran, almost all forms of music and expression were (and some continue to be) banned or heavily censored. However, this does not stop the young people of Iran from finding ways to express themselves. In fact, the oppression of personal freedom and expression that Iran enforces on its people has actually fed into a movement of underground culture and music as a form of resistance and rebellion. TarantisT is a rock band from Tehran, the capital city of Iran. Speaking with their lead singer Arash, I gained some insight on what it was like playing rock music in Iran, how they moved to the U.S., and what has changed for them since then.
Arash and I started off talking about their roots in learning traditional Persian musical instruments, as well as growing up listening to Western music. He pointed out that the way society was for them in Iran at the time pushed them towards having rebellious attitudes, naturally drawing them towards rock music as a form of release. He and his brother began playing guitar together, then practicing with friends, and eventually forming a band and small music community in Tehran. Influenced by artists like Pink Floyd and Metallica, I asked what playing shows or practicing their music in Tehran looked like for them. Arash remembers it as being “stressful and scary,” but also notes that this risk of being caught by authorities fed their adrenaline and passion for playing music even more.
“It was fun, we were not thinking about it and just doing it because we loved it that much.”
With a curiosity for this unique story and background, I continued by asking what would happen if they were to get in trouble for their music in Iran. Arash says in the past, they would label you as “devil worshippers” or “anti-religious,” and many who were labeled could end up in jail – or worse. He told me the law in Iran says that if you are labeled as being anti-religious by the government, you could even be executed. Worst of all, Arash notes that these things were so arbitrary, dependent on the mood of the officers or if you had any connections to government officials. Aside from just legal repercussions though, Arash also talked about the problems with censorship of music. “Playing this music, singing the lyrics that you want without getting them censored or praising the people in charge is just impossible. You have to get special permission from the ministry of morality and go through some channels in order to get exposure and play your music.” Despite the hardships Arash discusses about Iran, he also mentions that things are better there now and are improving as more people are able to play shows and listen to music, although there still are restrictions. “They still have to somehow censor themselves or have connections to those in charge, you cannot say whatever you want,” Arash clarifies.
“Playing this music, singing the lyrics that you want without getting them censored or praising the people in charge is just impossible. You have to get special permission from the ministry of morality and go through some channels in order to get exposure and play your music.”
Next, we discussed how the band relocated from Tehran to Los Angeles. Starting by playing secret shows in tiny basements in Tehran, prior to the spread of smartphones and social media, Arash explained how their friends began to record and share some of their shows. “There were just Yahoo groups and messengers, and we had a small group with some followers, we were posting when we had small shows and our friends would show up.” With friends sharing images and videos of their shows online, the band began receiving emails from media overseas interested in covering their story. With this, they gained more exposure and were invited to play a show in Europe, which Arash notes as a turning point for them. After this, they were invited to SXSW, however, they could not make it due to a prolonged visa process. After trying to get visas and come to SXSW for 2 years, they finally made it out in 2008. The band then decided to stay in the U.S. to pursue their music, becoming residents and living in L.A. to work on music and have an Iranian community around them.
I asked Arash what has changed for them since living in the U.S. “Surprisingly, the goal that we had is really the same,” he says, “we don’t care about who tells us what to do, we do it the way that we love and we keep it this way.” Staying independent and true to their own vision, TarantisT keeps all lyrics in Farsi and refuses to conform to any rules or societal standards, whether in America or Iran. With this, the band is working on new music to be released later in the summer, called Devastated Generation, with their same vision but a more updated and modern sound. Dedicating their set and upcoming album to the women of Iran, in support of their sisters and brothers back home, TarantisT rocked SXSW hard and definitely have a unique story and sound to share.